THE SUN SHINES HIGH IN ITALIAN LITERATURE

massimo vitali beaches
A photo by Massimo Vitali

“The sun burnt every day. It burnt time.”

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

“Love, that moves the sun and the other stars”

Dante Alighieri, Paradiso

In many novels – and also in our lives – there is always an inescapable presence: the sun. In ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus the sun plays a critical role, as it is a symbol for feelings and emotions. It symbolises the inherent absurdity of the universe and of life. The sun comforts, torments, pains, compels, and mercilessly drives the protagonist, Monsieur Meursault. Here is a selection of Italian tales full of warmth and light.

Conversations in Sicily (1941) by Elio Vittorini

Written during Mussolini’s dictatorship, this is one of the great anti-fascist novels Italo Calvino named it the ‘Guernica-book’. Vittorini was a novelist, a literary critic and a translator (together with Cesare Pavese, Vittorini pioneered the translation of English and American writers into Italian). The protagonist of this short novel – Silvestro- embarks on a journey back to Sicily – land of fire, sun and oranges, the home he has not seen for long time. This journey forces him to reflect upon himself, on his family and on the rise of fascism in Italy through the conversations he has with the people he meets.

Arturos Island (1957) by Elsa Morante

‘What you thought was a little dot on the ground, was everything’ begins the poem at the start of this novel written by one of the greatest Italian writers, Elsa Morante. The small dot on the earth was the island of Procida, off the coast of Naples in Southern Italy. Arturo is a young boy living with his father, as his mother died when he was born. One day the young Nunziatella – the father’s wife – moves in with them and everything changes. During that summer Arturo discovers love, sex and how his father, who he thought of as a hero, is on the contrary a person full of secrets, and in love with another man. Morante doesn’t want to shock, she is just telling a reality that has such far-reaching consequences and is so complex in nature that Arturo cannot fail to reach adulthood before his time.

Pereira Maintains (1994) by Antonio Tabucchi

Set in Lisbon in the summer heat of 1938, during Salazar’s dictatorship, this novel is about Dr. Pereira, editor of the culture pages of a second-rate weekly newspaper, ageing and lonely, following the death of his wife. Pereira is a dull and methodical man, without any political inclinations. One day a young revolutionary, starts working for him. The anti-hero Pereira then turns into a subversive, in his own small way. Tabucchi lived in Lisbon for a long time and he was the main Italian translator for Ferdinando Pessoa. ‘Pereira Maintains’ was made into a film in 1996 starring Marcello Mastroianni. In the novel, England and the BBC are mentioned as bastions of free speech.

Mr. Palomar (1983) by Italo Calvino

Mr. Palomar, whose name comes from the famous telescope and observatory, is the protagonist of the last of Italo Calvino’s books, master of allegorical fantasy. Mr. Palomar – the author’s alter-ego, is a softly-spoken man, who struggles with the surrounding world. He tries to understand the meaning of reality through attention to the finest of details. The third part of the novel, “The sword of the sun”, is a reflection on the power of sun. As Mr. Palomar takes his evening swim, he notes that ‘the sun’s reflection becomes a shining sword on the water stretching from the shore to him’. The book is a meditative analysis of nature for those seeking an alternative view on the universe.